Fear and Translanguaging in Los Estados Unidos

What is translanguaging?

Translanguaging is the enactment of dynamic bilingualism.

Translanguaging is a fluid and flexible process of communication.

Translanguaging is a conceptualization of what it is to be bilingual that contrasts with the idea of functioning as two parallel monolinguals in one.

Translanguaging is a practice of utilizing features of multiple named languages together, embracing one’s entire linguistic repertoire as a single system for communication.

Translanguaging is an idea that I have attempted to begin to describe in the above statements and about which I am still actively learning.


Translanguaging is trending (in my worlds, at least).

Last month I attended two huge professional conferences and there was a remarkable number of sessions with translanguaging in the title or description. There appeared to be a wide range of understandings and interpretations about what translanguaging is and what it means for teacher practice. There seemed to be a fair amount of tension around it as well. In a recent conversation, a friend of mine said it plainly:

There is fear.

There is fear that translanguaging will invalidate the beliefs that have long shaped our thinking about educating emergent bilinguals.

There is fear that translanguaging will mean dismantling structures, policies and practices that have long defined how we teach emergent bilinguals.

There is fear that translanguaging will diminish the status of, instructional expectations for, and the case for deep development of minority languages.

There is fear that debates over translanguaging will divide our community of bilingual/esol educators and weaken our efforts at advocacy and collaboration.

I get it.

These fears come from a natural place. It is normal to react negatively to ideas that challenge our current beliefs. It is uncomfortable just to consider that change may be warranted and beyond that, to decide it is necessary and actually enact change is further uncomfortable, and hard, and scary.

These fears also come from a good place. They are rooted in care for the well-being of bilingual children, in the struggle for equity, and in the love of language.

But let’s not be afraid.

The concept of translanguaging does conflict with some of the ideas and practices that generations of us have fought hard to put forward in the field of education. But we don’t have to interpret the challenge as an affront to our ideas or as a betrayal of our previous efforts. We should welcome ideas that challenge us as prompts to examine our beliefs, individually and collectively, to cross-check and refine and enrich our thinking, to acknowledge and enjoy the elements of the various perspectives that ring true to us, to analyze conflict across different points of view, to engage in healthy debate and discourse, to evolve and generate potent approaches to this work together.

To quell some of our fears a bit, let’s recognize that both the movement to embrace translanguaging and our fears of translanguaging come from essentially the same roots. They come from a commitment to bilingual children, from a hope for equity within and across all our communities, from a passion for human expression. So, though we all may not agree on all the Whats and Hows, we do share some very powerful Whys.

It may also soothe our anxiety to push past initial impressions of translanguaging and its implications for classrooms. As far as I understand it, embracing translanguaging does not mean we abandon everything we currently think and do in the education of emergent bilinguals. It does not mean that we stop being thoughtful and strategic about the languages we use for instruction. It does not mean that we neglect the development of robust literacy in English or any of the languages other than English in our communities.

I think translanguaging means that while we as bilinguals can study and use named languages, we recognize each of them as external systems and we simultaneously perceive our entire internal linguistic repertoire as integrated and whole. Translanguaging means we open up spaces to claim as valid, appreciate, celebrate and freely undertake bilingual (& multilingual!) ways of knowing and communicating.

Here’s why this resonates for me…

The practice of translanguaging is natural and normal. In my experience, it is what bilinguals do around other bilinguals. It’s not weird or shameful and it doesn’t represent confusion. It’s a manifestation of the shared experience of bilingualism that goes beyond sharing common knowledge sets of discrete languages–it’s an expression of community.

The incorporation of translanguaging in the classroom leverages one’s entire linguistic repertoire. This allows students to bring all their linguistic resources to bear in service of making meaning and expressing understanding. I love the possibilities this opens up for expanding pathways to understanding and capturing truer portraits of our students’ learning, not limited by only considering what they can do and demonstrate through monolingual paradigms. In this sense, translanguaging can serve as a powerful scaffold for learning.

The embracing of translanguaging expands opportunity for effective communication and creative expression. If we are amplifying and creating greater opportunity for student voice, I’m into it.

The concept of translanguaging asserts and affirms bilingual identities. That’s what it’s all about, no?

A final thought for now…(It became a poem!)

I love a good metáfora

double helix of bilingualism
Bilingual DNA

I think of my own bilingualism

As a double helix.

A strand of English y otra de español.

Connected by all the understandings and practices that

Exist en los espacios intermedios, entre medios y occuren “in-between”

My languages and languagings and lived experiences.

They coil around each other,

And become one

        Multidimensional, dynamic, evolving,

        Bilingual DNA.


Here is a handful of resources that have informed my current understandings about translanguaging and dynamic bilingualism:

Translanguaging in Bilingual Education by Ofelia Garcia and Angel M. Y. Lin

What is Translanguaging? Interview with Ofelia Garcia in Psychology Today

What is Translanguaging? from EAL Journal

The Translanguaging Classroom by Ofelia Garcia, Susana Ibarra Johnson, Kate Seltzer

The CUNY-NYS Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals

Building on the Translanguaging Practices of Emergent Bilinguals, blog post by Nelson Flores

Slides from Ofelia Garcia 2012 presentation


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s